As a small part of a greater effort to celebrate agricultural and rural lifestyle that constitutes the backbone of our community, we’ve recently launched the new Campbell County Fair Clover Kids campaign (“CCF Clover Kids”), where friends, family, and the community of Gillette and Campbell County are introduced to local 4-H’ers and invited to follow along as they train their livestock and prepare their projects for the Campbell County Fair 2019, beginning July 26 through Aug. 4.

With its head tethered to the fence, Gus craned his meaty neck back to check out the action behind him. Eyes wide, the Red Angus steer gave a snort and shook his head as 15-year-old Cody Boller combed around the mud on his back leg. Across the corral, Cody’s younger brother, 10-year-old Brady, was also giving his steer a comb down. Beast Mode, so named for his less-than pleasant disposition, monitored his handler’s movements with interest.

Hair is a big deal when it comes to a 4-H beef competition. Right now, the steers’ coats are looking a little patchy, so this week they’ll start spending their days in the cool barn and do their grazing by moonlight.

Keeping them cool will give their coats a chance to fill out, Cody explained, as he navigated behind Gus and gave him a few consoling slaps on his rump.

Gus was named after the iconic cowboy gentleman, Gus McCrae, from one of Cody’s favorite movies, “Lonesome Dove.” Just like the characters in the movie, Cody is all cowboy, and if it were up to him, he’d bypass school altogether to become a full-time hand.

His dad Jake gets it. After high school, Jake took a job at the coal mine and moved to town. After a short career, he returned to the family ranch his great aunt and uncle homesteaded in 1906, 40 miles outside of Gillette off Highway 59. But like his grandpa, he insists that his three boys go off and do something else before returning, should they choose to do so.

For now, the boys are enjoying their first day of spring break doing what they love.

There’s roughly three months until the Campbell County Fair, so they’re making up for lost time. Right now, their steers are in good form, so it’s just a matter of fattening them up and taming them enough to wow the judges.

The food part is easy. Two feedings per day of up to 24 pounds of grain. Because Gus, who has about 50 pounds on Beast, seems to be hogging the chow, they’ll soon be separated during feeding times.

The harder part is getting the steer to follow your lead.

From the day the steers are pulled out of pasture into the corral, they’re fighting you, Brady said. It takes a lot of time working with them to make them compliant.

To see Brady, who is just barely tall enough to reach the massive animal’s neck, manhandle the steer speaks to the skill that these boys are making look easy. There’s no timidity as they work their way around the massive girth of their 1,000 pound-plus frames that could easily squash them.

“Don’t run your face into a pole,” is the advice from their father, “and don’t let go of the rope.”

Both boys have learned this lesson the hard way. Brady was kicked by his older brother Tyler’s steer when he was two. After flying a few feet into the air, landing him a trip to the ER, he was able to escape with just a few cuts and bruises. Cody, meanwhile, slipped on ice this winter while trying to tie up one of the steers. Heeding his dad’s warning, he held tight to the rope and slid face first into one of the poles and broke his nose.

Despite past injuries, however, they showed no fear as Cody led Gus in a circle around the dried gumbo corral and Brady followed behind, tapping Gus on the butt to keep him moving. Working with the steers is the only way to get them tame enough to stand still in front of the judges.

“You have to train everyone to trust each other,” Jake explained, as he yelled out a few tips for Cody, who coerced the steer into standing position.

“He’s setting up nicely,” Jake told his son, and Cody nodded in return.

It’s just a matter of time and practice. In the meantime, there’s fencing to do and a host of other chores.

This is how the boys earn their keep and food for their animals. During auction, the steers will sell between $3,000 and $5,000, money they turn around and invest back into their operation.

But it’s not about money; that’s not why they’re out here. It’s in their blood, and those veins run deep.

Going Vintage

Sewing and crocheting afghans with your grandma might not be every teenage girl’s idea of a good time, but for 14-year-old Sawyer and 17-year-old Meghan Hanson, it’s one of their favorite things to do. Not only is their Grandma Carol super fun and cool to hang out with, but she also has some valuable skills to pass on. Not to mention, access to vintage patterns and unique fabrics you can’t find just anywhere.

For the past five years, the Hanson girls have been churning out one-of-a-kind couture fashions while stacking up championship 4-H ribbons at the county fair.

Take the pale, pink wool coat with silky pink lining that Meghan made last year or Sawyer’s lime green wool shift. Both look like they came off a designer rack with superior craftsmanship and style.

They make it look easy, but it’s not.

What you can’t see in the straight hems and tidy seams is all the work – and headaches – that goes into pulling this off. Not to mention, modeling and explaining their designs to the 4-H judges, who turn the clothing inside out, silently accessing their handiwork as they stonily jot down notes on their clipboard.

“It’s a little like Project Runway,” Meghan said, noting the hardest part is the silence because you have no idea what’s going on in the judge’s mind.

Sometimes, it’s much more obvious. Like the time a judge attempted to unsnap Sawyer’s jacket, at which point all the snaps flew off.

“I wanted to cry,” Sawyer said. “It took me four hours to sew those on.”

Over the years, the judges have continually pushed them to take their designs to the next level. Last year, Meghan sewed a plaid suit coat and skirt ensemble, complete with her first foray into high heels, which prompted the younger girls to ask if she was going to an interview.

Meghan laughed. Working with the younger girls is part of what makes the competitions so fun. Last year, she helped teach them the finer points of modeling.

There’s a lot of sharing of knowledge across generations in general, like the girls teaching their grandmother to order from Amazon while she teaches them how to work from a pattern and put in darts.

Sometimes, they turn to YouTube for help, like the time Meghan’s design called for a hidden zipper, which Grandma Carol was vehemently against. They didn’t do those in her day.

This year, Meghan has her eye on a white chiffon T-length party dress, with a gauzy, flowy skirt, very Audrey Hepburn “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and Sawyer is thinking about making a peplum jacket to wear while showing her horse, Sugar.

Along with sewing, their grandmother is also teaching them how to bake, make and can jelly. In many homes, these skills are getting lost between generations, but not here.

Reining Champ

Alot goes into getting a horse ready, 8-year-old Taebyn McGinley explained, as she deftly cross-tied Heidi’s halter to hooks on either side of her stall. Inside the horse barn on the family’s property off North Heptner Road in Rozet, Heidi, Taebyn’s 15-year-old quarter horse, stood patiently as her young charge combed the dust out of her coat and picked rocks out of her hooves.

In her cowboy boots and silky, robin egg blue western button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans with a fancy belt buckle, Taebyn moved around the horse like she’s been doing this her whole life, which she pretty much has. She was riding shotgun in her mom’s belly before she was even born and got up onto her first pony not long after.

It’s safe to say it’s a life that Taebyn was born into, her mom Connie pointed out, given she and her husband J.D.’s active role in the horse community. Both long-time competitors, she in English and J.D. in western, Taebyn grew up feeling comfortable working with and riding horses.

Grabbing one end of the halter, Taebyn climbed up a fence post and shimmied over onto the saddle on Heidi’s back and gave her a horse a kick in the flank before trotting off into the biting, cold wind with eyes narrowed and forehead crunched in concentration.

Today is her last day of Easter break, so Taebyn is making the most of the chilly morning as she galloped toward her practice arena on the hill above her family’s home. In just over a month, she’ll have her first practice trial in preparation for this summer’s 4-H horse program where she will be competing for the very first time. Already, she is showing a lot of promise as a skilled rider. This winter, she competed in the KPH Ranch Horse Versatility Series for the first time and won high point for the series.

Connie watched from a distance as her daughter leaned over and eased the gate open from her saddle, pulling back the rein to guide Heidi in a side pass. Once through, she closed the gate and headed into the arena where her mom gave her instructions to trot, canter and walk over poles, all of which Taebyn handled easily. She struggled a bit to get the horse backward through the L formation of logs as Connie gave her a few pointers.

“It’s a gift and a curse,” Connie said of her role as her daughter’s coach, but it clearly is paying off as Taebyn expertly navigated Heidi across the bridge for the final obstacle in today’s practice. In the meantime, Taebyn will continue to memorize and practice patterns from a book she won during the recent 4-H Horsemanship Challenge.

This summer, Taebyn will have her work cut out for her as she prepares to compete in a long list of events, both English and western, including trail, reining, western horsemanship, ranch riding and English Equitation to name a few. She’ll also have to wow the judges with her showmanship skills, which is all about getting Heidi washed and groomed and answering a whole bunch of questions as she leads her horse through the motions.

In the coming weeks, her mom will work with her on her showmanship skills, which she has yet to practice. For now, Taebyn’s enjoying her last afternoon of freedom with her horse.

By: Jen C. Kocher
Photos: Adam D. Ritterbush

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